Pratt Honors Ai Weiwei, Santiago Calatrava, Kathryn C. Chenault, and Phillippe de Montebello
Pratt Institute honored 1,407 bachelor's and master's degree candidates during its 123rd Commencement at 2 PM on Wednesday, May 9, at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The Institute also awarded honorary degrees to contemporary artist, curator, and social, political, and cultural critic Ai Weiwei, who accepted his honorary degree via a video presentation; architect, engineer, and artist Santiago Calatrava; patron of the arts and education Kathryn C. Chenault, Esq.; and Director Emeritus, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Fiske Kimball Professor, Institute of Fine Arts, NYU, Philippe de Montebello. Santiago Calatrava delivered this year's Commencement remarks.
Ai's doctor of fine arts degree was conferred in recognition of his numerous achievements as an artist and as an activist. Calatrava's doctor of fine arts degree was conferred in recognition of his achievements as an architect, artist, and engineer. Chenault's doctor of humane letters degree was conferred in recognition of her influential role in supporting the arts, educational scholarships, and in bringing greater public awareness to the welfare of young people. De Montebello's doctor of humane letters degree was conferred in recognition of his expertise in fine arts and achievements as the director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
For the third time in Pratt's Commencement history, graduates received diplomas on stage at Radio City Music Hall. Radio City is the largest indoor theater in the world; more than 300 million visitors have been entertained and thrilled by performances held in its interior, which received city landmark status more than 30 years ago.
In his commencement remarks, Calatrava urged graduates to "...remember how it was before the computer era. Today we live in the epoch of the computer. The computer has revolutionized every aspect of the way in which we live and work and will continue to do so in ways we can only guess. But we must keep in mind that the computer is only a tool, like the chisel, the brush, or the pencil."
In accepting his honorary degree, de Montebello remarked, "Happily, I can now dedicate myself to teaching, not about the container where I've spent the last 45 years, also quite happily, but about the contents, the works of art; this is most rewarding; indeed, it seems almost an indulgence. And lastly, quite satisfying also, is the experience of that basic difference between those two worlds, the museum and the academy, where in the latter--and here I express a truism--it is the student who provides the deepest reward: one of an individual, singular nature, as opposed to the museum's rather more amorphous gratification, as it is found in millions of visitors, literally, although to think one has provided them with both pleasure and instruction, is also deeply fulfilling."
Biographies of the 2012 Pratt Institute Commencement Honorees
One of China's most influential cultural figures, Ai Weiwei is a contemporary artist, curator, and social, political, and cultural critic, who was arrested in 2011 while attempting to travel to Hong Kong. After an international outcry, Ai was released but forbidden from leaving Beijing, where he remains today. Born in Beijing in 1957, Ai came to New York in 1981, where he created conceptual art by altering ready-made objects. He returned to Beijing in 1993 and began a series of projects that proved critical to the development of experimental art in China. Often employing his country's cultural artifacts by way of destruction and manipulation, his work represents and addresses China's traditions. In 1999, Ai moved to Caochangdi on the outskirts of Beijing, China, where he built and opened his studio FAKE Design. In addition to being known for his frank and witty artwork, Ai has also drawn attention for his political activism. His outspokenness has resulted in frequent run-ins with Chinese authorities. In 2009, after his "Citizens' Investigation" project, which researched and published information about students who died in the 2008 Sichuan province earthquake, Ai sustained a head injury during an altercation with police. Ai's work has been exhibited in Australia, Belgium, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, and the United States, and has also been commissioned by the Tate Modern in London. He was a speaker at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in 2006 and a runner-up for TIME magazine's Person of the Year in 2011. His numerous awards and honors include The Wall Street Journal's Innovator of the Year Award and The Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation Award for Courage.
Santiago Calatrava's name has been most closely associated with his celebrated designs of bridges and transportation centers built throughout the world. Highlights of his work include designs for The Milwaukee Art Museum in Wisconsin (2001), the Athens Olympic Sports Complex (2004), the Light Rail Train Bridge in Jerusalem (2007), the Quarto Ponte sul Canal Grande in Venice (2008), the Liège-Guillemins TGV Railway Station in Belgium (2009), the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in Dallas (2012), and the Peace Bridge in Calgary (2012). He is currently working on a variety of design and construction projects throughout the world including The World Trade Center Transportation Hub in New York City; the Margaret McDermott Bridge in Dallas; Città dello Sport, Rectorate and Campus Master Plan for Roma II University in Tor Vergata, Italy; and Yuan Ze University in Taiwan.
Kathryn C. Chenault, Esq. has devoted the past several years to supporting educational institutions, health care organizations, and the arts. A former practicing attorney, Chenault currently serves on the boards of the NYU School of Law, Tufts University, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Hospital for Special Surgery, and the Municipal Arts Society. She has also had an active role in supporting the Harlem Children's Zone, the Abyssinian Development Corporation, and currently serves as a member of the International Council of The Museum of Modern Art. Her tireless commitment to the welfare of young people is often demonstrated through her support of numerous scholarship funds and her development of mentoring programs with diverse educational institutions.
In 2008, Philippe de Montebello retired after 31 years as the longest-serving director in The Metropolitan Museum of Art's 140-year-long history. Under de Montebello's leadership, The Metropolitan Museum nearly doubled in size, vastly increasing its exhibition space.The Metropolitan also acquired significant collections and individual masterpieces, mounted acclaimed international loan exhibitions, developed wide-reaching educational programs, and reinstalled much of its permanent collections in new and refurbished galleries. In 2008, the curators of The Metropolitan Museum paid homage to de Montebello's tenure by mounting an unprecedented tribute exhibition of some 300 works of art that entered the collections under his leadership, titled "The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions." Following his retirement, de Montebello became the first scholar in residence at the Prado Museum in Madrid, and he launched a new academic career as the first Fiske Kimball Professor in the History and Culture of Museums at the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University; he is also a special advisor for NYU's Abu Dhabi campus. De Montebello is the television co-host with Paula Zahn of the WNET/PBS weekly culture series NYCArts. He also serves as special advisor to the Leon Levy Foundation. In 2008, he was elected to the board of trustees of the Musée d'Orsay in Paris and, in 2012, was elected honorary trustee of the Prado Museum in Madrid. In 2003, President G.W. Bush awarded de Montebello the National Medal of the Arts and in 2009, President of the United States Barack Obama awarded him the National Medal of the Humanities. De Montebello is the only the fourth person to have received both the U.S. National Medal of the Arts and the National Medal of the Humanities. He is Officier de la Légion d'Honneur and Officier des Arts et des Lettres; Knight Commander, Pontifical Order of St. Gregory the Great; Orden de Isabella la Católica, Encomienda de Numéro; Japan's Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star; Commendatore, Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy; and Officier de l'Ordre de Léopold, Royaume de Belgique. In 1996, de Montebello was declared a Living Landmark by New York City's Landmarks Commission.
From left to right: Santiago Calatrava giving the 2012 Pratt Institute Commencement remarks; two students from Pratt Institute's Class of 2012 outside of Radio City Music Hall; Ai Weiwei accepting his doctor of fine arts honorary degree via a video presentation; Santiago Calatrava, Pratt President Thomas F. Schutte, Kathryn C. Chenault, Esq., and Philippe de Montebello. Photo credits: René Perez
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